In some ways, I think of DSLR's as similar to high-performance outdoor clothes, Leathermans, and SUV's- guys buy them because we like the idea that at any time, these expensive, specialized tools could be exactly what we need. Stuff White People like says it perfectly:
When white people aren’t working, they generally like to wear Outdoor Performance Clothes. The main reason why white people like these clothes is that it allows them to believe that at any moment they could find themselves with a Thule rack on top of their car headed to a national park. It could be 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday when they might get a call “hey man, you know what we need to do? Kayak then camping, right now. I’m on my way to get you, there is no time to change clothes.”
Though it is unlikely that they will receive this call, White people hate the idea of missing an opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities because they weren’t wearing the right clothes.
On the one hand, I love my D50. It was cheap, it focuses and snaps pictures quickly, and I take pretty pictures with it. That said, it's also kind of "I have a big hunk of metal in my hands with a Nikon strap on it, therefore I am a badass." For everyday snapshots, it's kind of overkill (I've been using a much-smaller-but-still-badass panasonic for an everyday camera lately). I get that it does some things a lot better than a compact camera, but I still kind of cringe when I see tourists carrying a $1500, 3-pound hulk of a camera to take a shot available on a postcard in the gift store of a tourist attraction. That said, it's really fun when you actually get a chance to use your little toys. I love it when there's a rope to be cut with my leatherman, a camping trip that requires wearing my patagonia jacket, or a quick happening across the street that lets you whip out your SLR and pop off some shots.
I had one of these moments today, when a stork alighted outside of my room. I'm staying on the fourth floor of my host family's house, and there's an empty flowerpot full of water right outside my window-doors. It's full of water, and while I was killing time on the internet a little while ago, a majestic stork swooped in, grabbed a goldfish in its beak, posed on the railing of the deck, and soared away. I have no idea where the goldfish came from.
A few more pics are up on flickr.
In other random camera news, it has been a long time since anything new has gone on with DSLRs. My D50's sensor is five years old, and unless you're really into cropping, with a tiny bit of postprocessing it's near-impossible to tell the difference between its pictures and those from the new D90. Megapixels don't matter. People worry too much about hype from the camera companies, and don't sit down to figure out a good compromise between how small their camera is, and how much speed and how many stops of light they're willing to give up to a tiny sensor and a slow lens. When you get down to it, that's all that really matters in the world of cameras (but saying that would make life hard for Canon's marketing department).
Until now, SLR's from Nikon and Canon have kept the same sensor size. Since low-noise-high-sensitivity is due to sensor size, aperture is lens-dependent, and shutter speed is a setting, this means that besides a little work in the camera's software, there's no light advantage from a new body. Marketing departments are lying hypists, and consumers are sheep. However, in the last year, two big things have happened in DSLRS.
#1: The D700. Nikon took the sensor and 90% of the abilities of their expensive D3, and put it into a $3000 (now <$2500) body. Expensive? Hell yes, and I won't be buying one any time soon, but this represents a big drop from the D3's sticker price of $5,000, and my hope is that in another year or two, full-frame breaks the $1,000 barrier.
What the hell is full-frame and why does it matter? Full-frame means the sensor is big, about as big as normal 35mm film. This makes for shots with very little noise, even with high sensitivity (ISO, similar to film speed). This means more light in your shot, which means easier shots in darker places. To illustrate stuff, compact cameras start looking like crap between ISO 400 and 800. DSLR's start between 800 and 1600. The D700 looks like this at ISO 6400:
This means that to get a similar looking shot to a smaller camera, you could shoot two shutter speeds faster, or two aperture stops more closed, and get the same amount of light in the camera. That's a big deal.
#2: HD video. To be honest, when I heard about it for the first time, I didn't think much of it. Tiny cameras can do HD too, and it looks a lot like normal pocket-cam video, just a little sharper. However, then I saw Joichi Ito's video of my company's fifth anniversary party, taken on his Canon 5D Mark II:
Wow. I now get that the big sensors of DSLRS, and their bright lenses with large apertures, are worlds away from little pocket-cam stuff. The video is amazing! It looks better to me than a lot of consumer HD video cameras. I doubt we'll see 5D's making feature films any time soon, and the lack of a hard disk (HD takes up a lot of space), mic attachment, or electronic viewfinder doesn't suit it to cinema, but for capturing an event or location in motion, it blows me away.
Well, that rambled a bit, but I think it arrived in a good place. I'm packing up at the moment- I'm going to Nagoya on the Shinkansen tomorrow morning. It's pretty exciting, because as far as I know, a shinkansen is like a combination of a choo-choo train and a spaceship, and I've loved both of them since I was a little boy. I'll be sure to put up pics a-plenty when I get back.